‘Tis the season for delicious traditional family foods and mouth-watering desserts—we all tend to indulge in this time of year. If you’re trying to keep a healthy diet in mind, it’s important to remember that those tempting meals and snacks are not the only thing that can pack on the pounds this time of year.
As a matter of fact, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that popular sugary drinks are the leading source of added sugars in the American diet. Regular soda, fruit drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, and sweetened waters are common culprits. Don’t forget those fancy, flavored coffees—which also count as sugary drinks—as well as sugar and flavored creamer added to coffee and tea at home.
Craving some festive eggnog in the weeks to come? Keep in mind that some of our favorite holiday beverages containing alcohol are a common source of extra calories and added sugar, too.
Health Concerns of Sugary Drinks
Although a sweet treat once in a while is okay, drinking sugary drinks regularly increases the likelihood of serious health problems like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
The USDA 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that people 2 years and older keep their intake of added sugars to less than 10% of their total daily calories. If you follow a 2,000-calorie diet, that means that no more than 200 calories should come from added sugars. 200 calories is about 12 teaspoons of added sugar in all of our food and beverages combined each day.
You might be surprised to learn how many calories and sugar are in some of the most popular holiday beverages. For example:
- 1 cup of eggnog: 343 calories, 21 grams of sugar
- 5 ounces of wine: 237 calories, 12 grams of sugar
- 1 cup of hot chocolate: 200 calories, 24 grams of sugar
- Starbucks venti (large) white mocha: 435 calories, 52 grams of sugar
Healthier Holiday Alternatives
The good news is that there are plenty of healthy beverage choices that we can enjoy while socializing with friends and family this holiday season and beyond.
Try these tips for choosing your drinks with health in mind:
- Add slices of lemon, lime, or cucumber to water to enhance the flavor. Or try a sprig of herbs such as mint, basil, lavender, or rosemary.
- Instead of an alcoholic drink, choose a can of sparkling mineral water, club soda, or seltzer water with a twist of lemon or lime for a great calorie and sugar-free option.
- Replace sweetened drinks with water when dining out at restaurants.
- To make holiday drinks at the coffee shop healthier, aim for the smallest size. Ask for 1 pump of flavored syrups instead of the standard 4, and choose non-fat or lower-fat milk alternatives. Skip the whipped cream, caramel drizzle, and other added toppings that just boost calories and sugar.
- Choose low-fat or skim milk instead of whole milk in hot cocoa. Hot chocolate can be a source of antioxidants and nutrients, especially when it is made with dark chocolate, and low-fat milk packs a punch with calcium, vitamin D, and protein. Stay away from the added whipped cream and marshmallows—opt for a little cinnamon instead.
- If you do drink alcohol, alternate a glass of water with your booze. This not only cuts your calories but keeps you hydrated and reduces the amount of alcohol you consume.
- Add fizz to your wine by combining 1 part wine with 2 parts sparkling water.
- Eggnog is typically made with milk, cream, eggs, sugar, and rum, making it very rich in calories, fat, and sugar. Lighten it up by swapping whole milk with low-fat or skim milk or a lower-calorie, plant-based milk. Choose fat-free half-and-half in place of heavy cream, and reduce the sugar, or try a no-calorie, all-natural sweetener such as Stevia.
- Make a mocktail with the recipe below! An alcohol-free cocktail is typically lower in sugar and calories, plus there is the added benefit of no possibility of a hangover.
Fizzy Rosemary Cider Mocktail Recipe
This Fizzy Rosemary Cider Mocktail recipe from Diabetic Living Magazine, Winter 2020, cuts down on calories and sugar by using club soda and a sugar-free simple syrup. It’s festive and delicious, and the simple syrup can be made several days in advance.
- 4 ounces apple cider
- 4 ounces club soda or seltzer
- 1 tablespoon sugar-free simple syrup (see below)
- 1 sprig fresh rosemary
Sugar-Free Rosemary Simple Syrup
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup granulated sugar substitute
- 1 sprig rosemary
To prepare the simple syrup: Combine water, sugar substitute, and rosemary in a small saucepan. Cook, stirring over medium heat, until the sugar substitute is completely dissolved (about 1 minute). Remove from heat and let cool for 30 minutes. Remove and discard the rosemary sprig.
To prepare the mocktail: Combine cider, club soda (or seltzer), and simple syrup in a highball glass. Reserve remaining simple syrup for another use. Garnish with a rosemary sprig, if desired.
Enjoy the Holidays Your Way
Embrace the holiday season with all of the traditions and treats that you love. You don’t have to totally deprive yourself. With a few simple changes, such as selecting smaller portion sizes, limiting alcohol consumption, and avoiding sugary, calorie-rich drinks, you can savor the flavors of the season and keep your commitment to a healthy lifestyle.